Thursday, March 14, 2013
- by Rep. Richard Floyd
Workers’ Compensation Reform Scores Legislative Victory
Bill will create fairness in the system for both employer and employee
The Workers’ Compensation Reform Act of 2013, an initiative that is part of Governor Bill Haslam’s legislative agenda for the year, easily passed the House Consumer and Human Resources Committee this week.
Workers’ Compensation is an insurance program, adopted in Tennessee in 1919, that compensates employees for injuries they suffer on the job. Employers are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance to cover the costs of medical expenses and lost wages of employees when they suffer work-related injuries.
As introduced, the Workers’ Compensation Reform Act (House Bill 194) reforms the workers’ compensation system in Tennessee to provide more certainty for businesses while also protecting the interests of employees across the state.
If passed by the legislature, HB 194 will reduce the time it takes to receive permanent workers’ compensation benefits and improve injury medical treatment. In addition, the process for resolving workers’ comp disputes will be streamlined, allowing injured workers to receive compensation and return to work quicker.
According to critics, the current workers’ compensation process in Tennessee is unpredictable, cumbersome for determining benefits, and employees are often unable to receive benefits and return to work in a timely manner. Tennessee is one of only two states with a courts-based system. As a result, opponents of the system say, workers’ compensation premium rates for employers in Tennessee are higher than the national average.
The legislation will next be heard in the House Government Operations Committee on March 19th.
Statewide Partnership Addresses Human Trafficking in Tennessee
Republican lawmakers joined law enforcement officials from across the state this week to address the issue of human trafficking in Tennessee. In addition, the Women’s Fund of Greater Chattanooga, the Women’s Fund of Middle Tennessee, and the Women’s Fund of Greater Memphis officially launched a public campaign to increase awareness and offer resources to prevent human trafficking statewide.
Present at the event were Mark Gwyn – Director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Alberto Gonzales – Former United States Attorney General, as well as various Republican lawmakers from the Tennessee House of Representatives and Senate.
In 2010, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation conducted a study regarding human sex trafficking in Tennessee. The results of the study found trafficking and sex slavery in Tennessee is more common than previously known. The report cited that one in four children who run away from home are approached for commercial sexual exploitation within 48 hours of running away. In addition, the average age of a sex trafficking victim is 13, according to the study.
By working together with various anti-trafficking groups in the state, lawmakers hope they will be able to shine a spotlight on the disturbing crime trend of sex slavery and human trafficking in Tennessee.
Annexation Legislation Continues Building Statewide Support
Legislation will give all citizens a voice in the annexation process
A package of pro-property rights legislation related to the annexation of land in Tennessee continued building support this week as Tennessean’s from across the state joined in to back the effort.
The trio of bills, which are currently making their way through the House committee system, seek to make the overall annexation process more fair and efficient for all interested parties.
As introduced, the legislation requires that:
A local referendum vote be held to ensure property owners have a voice in the process of a city-initiated annexation;
A municipality first annex all territory within its urban growth boundary before being allowed to expand further;
A municipality must provide all promised public services to areas that it is already supposed to serve before annexing more property.
Currently, Tennessee is one of only three states in the nation that allows a city to seize the private property of an individual without that individual having any say in the process.
Republican Lawmakers Continue Push To Improve Tennessee Education
A proposal presented by Governor Bill Haslam and Republican lawmakers to improve education in Tennessee easily cleared the full House Education Committee this week. House Bill 190, referred to as the ‘Tennessee Choice & Opportunity Scholarship Act’, would give low-income families with students stuck in the lowest performing schools the opportunity to seek educational options outside the traditional public education system.
If passed by the legislature, eligible students would have the opportunity to receive a scholarship to attend the private school of their choice. The program would be capped in terms of overall statewide participation, beginning with an initial cap of 5,000 students in the first year and rising to 7,500 in the second, 10,000 in the third, and 20,000 in the fourth and thereafter. Only those students whose family income status qualifies them for free or reduced lunch and who also are zoned to a school among the bottom five percent in terms of student achievement would be eligible to participate in the program.
House Bill 190 will next be heard in the House Government Operations Committee on March 19th.
And in case you missed it…
Electronic Insurance Documentation – House Bill 478 passed out of the House Transportation Committee this week with full support from Republican lawmakers. As introduced, the bill allows insurance documentation to be displayed in an electronic format. Currently, state law provides that proof of financial responsibility be proven through a hard-copy, paper document only. HB 478, in contrast, opens up this language to also allow an individual to provide proof of insurance in an electronic format using a smart phone, laptop, or other electronic device. The bill will be heard in the House Calendar and Rules committee early next week
EBT Card Abuse – On Wednesday, Republican lawmakers on the House Health Committee gave approval to a bill designed to help curb abuse of purchases made using Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards. House Bill 119, when passed by the legislature, will prohibit use of a welfare recipient’s EBT card in liquor stores, adult cabarets, casinos, and other gambling facilities. In addition, welfare recipients who use EBT benefits illegally would be subject to disqualification from the program as permitted by federal law.
Anti-Income Tax Amendment – A constitutional amendment designed to clarify that Tennessee’s Constitution prohibits an income and payroll tax easily passed the House Finance, Ways and Means Subcommittee this week. The amendment, Senate Joint Resolution 1, specifies that the legislature as well as Tennessee counties and cities shall be prohibited from passing either an income tax or payroll tax, which is a tax on employers that is measured by the wages they pay their workers. Once approved by the legislature, the amendment will be placed on the 2014 statewide ballot for a referendum vote by the people of Tennessee. If passed by referendum, the Tennessee Constitution will then be amended to officially ban a state income and payroll tax.
Crime Prevention – Republican lawmakers on the House Criminal Justice Committee this week passed a series of bills which continue the push for crime prevention in Tennessee. Included in the package of bills is HB 416, which adds “trafficking for commercial sex acts” to the definition of a criminal gang offense. In recent years, both national and local trends in human trafficking reveal that gangs are becoming more involved in the sex trafficking of minors. In order to help further identify and punish such gang activity, this addition to the definition of a criminal gang offense was requested by Tennessee law enforcement officials.
Tennessee Veterans Homes – The Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs announced this week that U.S. News & World Report has named the Tennessee State Veterans Homes in Knoxville and Murfreesboro among the best in the country. U.S. News rated more than 15,000 nursing homes using data research on nursing home safety, health inspection, and staffing quality. The source of the data originates from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). In 2012, CMS issued five star ratings to the Ben Atchley State Veterans’ Home in Knoxville and the Tennessee State Veterans’ Home in Murfreesboro.